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Don Lemon Tonight

Cases Surging in Unvaccinated Communities; Kevin McCarthy Pulled Five GOP Members; President Biden Waits to Sign Voting Rights Bill; Democrats Wants Safety in Neighborhoods; NFL Players Rebuke New Rules. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired July 22, 2021 - 22:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: The news continues. I want to turn things over now to Don for Don Lemon Tonight. Don?

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is Don Lemon Tonight. Listen. Thank you for joining us.

I want to be done with this pandemic. I want to be done with it and I know you do, too. I just got back from the heart of this country where I hosted a town hall with our president, Joe Biden. Reporting on all the issues this country is facing, COVID, voting rights, crime, jobs, a lot of them out there.

And as I traveled back and forth, it occurred to me, I'm masking up again. I'm taking more precautions again. I'm vaccinated, fully vaccinated. And because half of us aren't and because the kids can't, we're backsliding.

This is a pandemic, really, of the unvaccinated. Cases are on the rise, all across the country. Some hospitals are running out of beds. I can't believe I have to report that again. Remember, during the height of the pandemic, hospitals running out of beds? And now, some hospitals running out of beds again.

Yet, the daily average of people getting fully vaccinated is the lowest it's been since the end of January. You heard the president, Joe Biden, at our town hall.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look. Here's -- it's really simple. We have a pandemic for those who haven't gotten the vaccination. It's that basic, that simple. This is simple, basic proposition. If you're vaccinated, you're not going to be hospitalized. You're not going to be in the ICU unit. And you are not going to die. So, it's gigantically important that you act like -- we all act like Americans that care about our -- our fellow Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: A few states are in particularly bad shape. OK? Pay attention to this, everyone. Forty percent of the cases coming from Texas, Missouri, and Florida where Governor Ron DeSantis who has been pretty cocky about his state, is still Mr. laissez faire in his response to the virus.

Even in the middle of urging the people of Florida to get vaccinated today, the governor insisted the recent spike is just part of seasonal fluctuations in the virus. Florida is averaging nearly 6,500 cases per day. That's double last week. Yet, the governor's campaign web site is selling don't Fauci my Florida koozies and t-shirts. Even one saying, quote, "how the hell am I going to be able to drink a beer with a mask on?

Like I said, Mr. laissez faire. And it's going to impact the fall big time, back to school, big time, even the NFL, big time. So tonight, a new rule in the NFL is if a game is cancelled because of a COVID outbreak among unvaccinated players, guess what? That team will have to forfeit and will be credited with a loss.

We are going to talk about that in just a little bit. On Capitol Hill, Republicans are putting politics over public health. Even the GOP's doctors -- well, caucus doctors, they don't seem to -- to see the need for Republicans to be more vocal about vaccines. Dr. Ronny Jackson, you remember, he was the White House doctor to not one but two presidents, President Barack Obama and the former guy. He got pretty hot under the collar about the idea of Republicans being asked to say whether or not they were vaccinated.


REP. RONNY JACKSON (R-TX): Yes. I was just going to chime in and say I think that you, as the press, have a responsibility to ask questions of the Democrats, as well. How many of the Democrats are willing to say whether or not they've been vaccinated? And what about the Texas delegation from the -- from the Texas House that came here?


JACKSON: Well, they've said that, including the six that tested positive. Do we have any evidence of that? I highly doubt that those six people were all vaccinated and tested positive for this virus.


LEMON: That guy -- that guy is a doctor? Well, you should -- listen. Maybe, you shouldn't ask questions you don't want to know the answer to because that's the question of the Democrats. Huh? That's exactly what CNN has done. We already did that.

We spent multiple inquiries to members -- we've sent multiple inquiries to members of Congress and reviewed their public statements. Ninety-seven House Republicans, nearly half refuse to tell us whether they have been vaccinated or not.

Two hundred nineteen House Democrats confirmed that they are vaccinated. Republican Congressman Chip Roy told CNN and I quote here, "I don't think it's anybody's damn business, whether I'm vaccinated or not." OK. And then, there's Matt Gaetz. Do you remember the DOJ is investigating his alleged-sexual relationship with a minor?

He told CNN that he thought the question was nosey and said, quote, "I think we should be talking more about freeing Britney." Serious, right? He's a serious congressman.


One of those hardest-hit states has a senator, and you know him, it's Ted Cruz. It's been exactly a year since he made this prediction.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): If it ends up that Biden wins in November -- I hope he doesn't. I don't think he will. But if he does, I guarantee you, the week after the election suddenly all those Democratic governors, all those Democratic mayors will say everything is magically better. Go back to work. Go back to school. Suddenly, the problems are solved.

You won't even have to wait for Biden to be sworn in. All they'll need is election day, and suddenly, their willingness to just destroy people's lives and livelihoods, they will have accomplished their task. That's wrong. It's cynical. And -- and we shouldn't be a part of it.


LEMON: Another informed genius in Ronny Jackson. What you should be a part of is fixing the situation in your state. Could -- could you be more wrong? And I will tell you what's cynical. It's cynical to put your own political fortunes ahead of the lives of the people who elected you to serve them. That's what is cynical.

And there's news tonight on the House Select Committee to tell you about, the committee to investigate the violent insurrection at the capitol on January 6th. With the first hearing next week, Nancy Pelosi is seriously considering adding at least one Republican to the panel, and that's Adam Kinzinger.

Former Congressman Denver Riggleman says that, if he is asked, that he's going to join the committee, too. That, after Kevin McCarthy took his ball and his bat and he went home. Pulling his five GOP members off after the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of his choices. Listen to what he told Manu Raju today.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What is wrong with having one or two members of your conference joining with Democrats to investigate what happened here?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Look, you know it and we predicted it back at the very beginning, this is a sham committee that's just politically driven by Speaker Pelosi.


LEMON: OK. Speaker Pelosi saying that she won't let what she called the GOP's antics get in the way of the investigation.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): It is my responsibility as Speaker of the House to make sure we get to the truth on this. And we will not let their antics stand in the way of that.


LEMON: And speaking of antics, here's her response to Kevin McCarthy's claim that he'll start his own investigation.


PELOSI: You know, I'm not talking about him. OK. What -- no, I'm not. I'm not concerned and I -- I mean, let's not waste each other's time. OK?


LEMON: That's like -- that's an anti. That's mama. Mama, don't waste my time. Let's focus on what's important. Don't try to change the subject. I feel like this is my mom when I would, but, mom, I'm sorry I'm home late with the car. Don't try to change the subject.

The fact is there's already one Republican on the committee, Liz Cheney. And there may be two more waiting in the wings. And you got to wonder whether Kevin McCarthy's picks of Jim Jordan and Jim Banks, two Republicans who voted to block Joe Biden's election was just an effort to kill the committee.

Jim Jordan said in December that there was no way the defeated president should concede. He pushed the big lie that there was something wrong with the election. Jim Banks questioned the legality of some votes and claimed the committee was created to, quote, "malign conservatives."

So, let's be real here. You can't have them on a committee that's supposed to be investigating what happened on January 6th. I think she should have allowed the picks and allowed this to play out. I think exactly right. Nancy Pelosi signed off on bipartisanship. Kevin McCarthy rejected it. And I asked President Biden about that in our town hall.


LEMON: If Republicans and Democrats can't come together, right, to investigate the biggest attack on our capitol in 200 years, what makes you think that they can come together on anything?

BIDEN: These people. (APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: No, I mean it. I'm not being facetious. Democrats and Republicans, I don't care if you think I'm Satan reincarnated, the fact is, you can't look at that television and say, nothing happened on the 6th. You can't listen to people who say this was a peaceful march.


LEMON: OK. So, here's the real question. What is the GOP hiding? Why are they trying to rewrite the history of what we all saw with our own eyes and heard with our own ears? I mean, listen, it's true. It's hard to rewrite that, all those pictures. What we saw violent Trump- supporting rioters beating police.



CROWD: Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!


LEMON: They are hunting for lawmakers, threatening to hang the vice president. They were there. They were shaken. They know what really happened. Remember, Kevin McCarthy, himself, just one week after the insurrection said that the then-president bore responsibility.


MCCARTHY: The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump. Accept his share of responsibility, quell the brewing unrest, and ensure President-elect Biden is able to successfully begin his term.

And the president's immediate action also deserves congressional action, which is why I think a fact-finding commission and a censure resolution would be prudent.


LEMON: What ever happened to that guy? A fact-finding commission, huh? Like the one he pulled Republicans off yesterday. What is the GOP trying to hide? Liz Cheney who lost her leadership position for telling the truth for slamming the big lie that fueled the insurrection says this.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): There must be an investigation that is nonpartisan, that is sober, that is serious, that gets to the facts wherever they may lead. And at every opportunity the minority leader has attempted to prevent the American people from understanding what happened to block this investigation.


LEMON: So, Republicans have made it pretty darn clear that they don't want an investigation. They want to play politics and turn the committee to focusing on Nancy Pelosi, really. That's what they want. Change the narrative. The GOP is just following the lead of the disgraced, twice-impeached, one-term former president or ex-president. Maybe I should start saying that.

They can't have a committee because it would uncover the truth of what this rambling incoherent guy is responsible for.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Loving crowd, too, by the way. There was a lot of love. I've heard that from everybody. Many, many people have told me, that was a loving crowd.


LEMON: OK. Look at all the love. There's so much love. They're just loving up on the Capitol and those -- those police officers. Just loving it. Leaving human feces behind and breaking things, smashing windows and putting their feet up on people's desks and poking officers in the eyes with flags, American flags. Trump flags, beating them. Yes, just loving up on every -- so much love spreading around can hardly stand it, right?

We know what happened on January 6th. We saw the crowd. Violent rioters beating those brave police officers trying to defend the capitol, beating them too within an inch of their lives. This -- you're not going to believe this but maybe you will in the time that we're -- in the times that we're in. Officers like Harry Dunn who told me what it was like to have racial slurs hurled at him while he was risking his life trying to protect our democracy. Watch.


HARRY DUNN, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER: Here we are giving so much and putting our lives on the line to protect democracy and keep it. And we're being called racial slurs, traitors, and any just weapon that these people could use because they were upset about some things.


LEMON: So, slurs, he means the n word. Yes. So, this is what the part you are not going to believe. It's absolutely disgusting that over on the Fox propaganda network a guy named Tucker Carlson attacked Officer Dunn. Attacked an American hero, saying he had very little in common with your average cop.

I am going to let you decide why you think Tucker Carlson would say that. Why is Harry Dunn different than, quote, "your average cop?" Because he's among those advocating for the truth that day, right? Wouldn't that be being pro-law and order? And that brings us to this question. What is the supposedly pro-law-

and-order GOP trying to hide? That is happening as voting rights, our most sacred rights as Americans are under assault. I asked President Joe Biden during our CNN town hall, is protecting the filibuster more important than protecting voting rights?


BIDEN: There were significantly fewer filibusters in those days in the middle of the civil rights movement.

LEMON: But let me -- let me talk to you about that --



BIDEN: Well, let me finish my answer because I tell you what I'd do. I would go back to that, where you have to maintain the floor. You have to stand there and talk and hold the floor. You can't just say with that.


LEMON: I understand that but what difference is that if you hold the floor for, you know, a day or a year? What difference does it make? Here's the thing for me. You talked about people, and this is important for people who look like me. My grandmother would sit around, when I was a kid, fifth grade.


LEMON: Had a 5th grade education. I learned that she couldn't read when -- when I was doing my homework. She would tell me stories about people asking her to count the number of jelly beans in the jar.


LEMON: Or the soap. And so, why is protecting the filibuster -- is that more important than protecting voting rights? Especially, for people who fought and died for that?


BIDEN: No. It's not. I want to see United States' Congress, United States' Senate, pass S1 and S4, the John Lewis Act, get them to my desk so I can sign it.


LEMON: More on that, next.


[22:19:58] LEMON: So last night, I moderated CNN's town hall with President Joe Biden. And you just heard some of it. We talked about voting rights, COVID pandemic, lots of stuff, the January 6th insurrection.

And today, there are big developments on a couple of those major issues.

A lot to discuss now with CNN senior political commentator, Mr. David Axelrod. And Matthew Dowd, former chief strategist for George -- President George W. Bush. He is the author of the upcoming book "Revelations on the River." It comes out on September, September 7th, and you can preorder it now on Amazon.

I am going to go do that right after this segment, Matthew.

Good evening to both of you, gentlemen. Thank you for joining.

So, let's discuss. I'm glad you are here to help me discuss the issues, the town hall last night and the issues that we are dealing with.

David, first, this Delta variant is raging. It is a pandemic of the unvaccinated and now the president is saying that health experts are exploring whether we could see revisions to mask guidance or for vaccinated Americans. Is the White House's progress on this threatened, do you think?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, as he said last night, I mean, it is -- it is -- it is gravely threatened in states with high -- high numbers of unvaccinated people. I think 40 percent of the new cases are in three states. But it's obviously affecting the rest of the country as well.

I mean, you see the numbers up in -- in L.A., for example, in an alarming way. So, you know, this is a concern. And you know, the virulence of this strain is obviously, you know, exponentially more than what we've seen before. And the -- the unwillingness of some people to get vaccinated has -- has made it a -- you know, a crisis.

His -- his goal last night with you, Don, was to calm people and remind them that if they're vaccinated, you know, they have some protection. He kind of overstated it. But they still have protection. But the fact is, there are a substantial number of people who aren't getting vaccinated. And they're still from some quarters getting disinformation that encourages them to do that.

LEMON: Yes. You know, Matthew, I have spoken to both of you -- you guys, a lot about voting rights. And last night, as I -- as you heard I spoke with the president about the filibuster and voting rights. He says that he doesn't want to kill the filibuster. Republicans will eventually come along to help pass voting rights. Listen to this.


BIDEN: What I also want to do. I want to make sure we bring along not just all the Democrats. We bring along Republicans who I know - know better. They know better than this. And what I don't want to do is get wrapped up right now in the argument whether or not this is all about the filibuster. Or -- look, the American public, you can't stop them from voting. You tried last time.

More people voted last time than any time in American history in the middle of the worst pandemic in American history.


BIDEN: More people did, and they showed up. They're going to show up again. They're going do it again. But what I want to do is I'm trying to bring the country together. And I don't want the debate to only be about whether or not we have a filibuster or exceptions to the filibuster or the going back to the way the filibuster had to be used before.

LEMON: But isn't that the only way you are going to get it done right now?

BIDEN: No, I don't believe that. I think we can get it done.

LEMON: If you -- if you -- you agree with the former president. He is called -- as you call him your old boss. That it is a relic of Jim Crow.

BIDEN: It is.

LEMON: If it's a relic of Jim Crow it's been used to fight against civil rights legislation historically, why protect it?

BDIEN: There is no reason other than you are going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done.

LEMON: Right.

BIDEN: Nothing at all will get done. And there is a lot at stake.


LEMON: There is -- there is a lot at stake, Matthew. Listen. The biggest applause I think were when I, or someone in the audience challenged him on, you know, getting voting rights done and the filibuster and the whole idea of bipartisanship. OK. So, a lot of people's reaction to that is fine. But what's getting done -- done in Congress right now? That's the question.

MATTHEW DOWD, FORMER CHIEF STRATEGIST FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, first, you did an awesome job by the way. And I'm -- I'm -- I was -- you did a wonderful job and I think you did ask the right questions. And also, congrats on your new book, brother. I think it's great.

I mean, I think Joe Biden is telling the truth on both parts of this is, yes, he wants voting rights. And yes, he wants to get a path done that doesn't blow up the filibuster. I think the problem is reality is that can't happen. And I think they're still -- I think the president who I voted for, who I want great success from is still not in a reality of what the GOP fundamentally is.

He's not going to get 10 votes for voting rights. If he put up a phrase that said, all men and women are created equal, they would vote against that at this point in time.


And so, in my view, it's like there's a -- there's a huge canyon in the middle of a road. And he is saying let's -- we're all going to go down the road and we'll get past the canyon, and he's not doing anything to get past the canyon. And the canyon in the way is the GOP and the tool they're using in order to prevent us from getting down this road on voting rights is the filibuster.

And so, until I think the -- the president and some members of the United States Senate get out of denial of what the GOP has become, we're going to be stuck here. And the filibuster is the tool the GOP is using to prevent us from protecting voter rights. That's a fact. That's reality.

LEMON: Let me -- I want to -- this is something I'm reading, David, and I want you to weigh in.


LEMON: This is something from our Ron Brownstein wrote something for And he said that -- where do I want to pick it up? Voting rights filibuster. I don't think it's -- I just -- I just want to make sure I pick it up in the right place. If the Lincoln-era Republican Party accepted the standard that Manchin and Sinema are putting forward in the -- and that Biden had refused to publicly challenge that Congress should only pass voting right -- rights protections if both parties agree to do it, then there would be no 14th amendment or 15th amendment because every Democrat in Congress at the time right after the Civil War voted against it.

And as I laid out in the attached -- it's a really good way to make that point. There was a GOP -- there was a GOP majority in the 1860s protecting minority rights in the country was more important than protecting minority input in the Senate. Shouldn't that be the standard today?

AXELROD: Yes. Look, Matthew talked about reality. And he is right about the reality. I mean, it was not credible to say that he's going to get 10 Republicans to vote for voting rights. But there is another piece of reality which is you're not going to get 50 Democrats to vote to undo the filibuster. And it's not just Manchin and Sinema.

Let's be clear. There are other senators who are not public. Who are not wanting to be out front on this, who -- who are deeply reluctant to vote against the filibuster? They think, you know, for political or other reasons. So, the president knows that.


LEMON: Even a carve out, David? AXELROD: And you know, we've had -- we've had these discussions before. You -- you and I and Bakari had this discussion, I think maybe last week.

LEMON: Two weeks ago.

AXELROD: And I keep asking the question. What would do? What would you do? He does not have the vote. And what he was saying to you is we're on the cusp. I'm not going to be -- I don't have 50 votes to do away with the filibuster. I'm on -- this is in the bubble box above his head. I am on the cusp of making a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure that will unlock a reconciliation bill with all 50 Democrats onboard that are going to have real-positive impacts on people's lives, people, particularly people in need. But all people in this country. And I don't want to blow that up.

That's what he was saying. That is reality too. So, you know, I just -- it is -- it is -- it is satisfying to say well, gee, he's the president. He should just compel them to do that and the Republicans. Well, the Republicans are tough. Well, I remember John McCain turning his thumb down despite all the pressure that Donald Trump put on him. And that's why the Affordable Care Act is still here today.

Senators do have prerogatives and there are limits to what presidents can do.


AXELROD: And you know he -- that is the reality of what Biden is facing.

LEMON: Well, I am enjoying this conversation so much. So why don't both of you stick around? I want to continue it. Stay with us. I want to talk about President Biden telling me that they are lying. Right? What is he talking about? We'll tell you.



LEMON: We are back now with David Axelrod, Matthew Dowd. Their analysis of the president's answers on key issues at CNN's town hall last night including his relationship with police officers in America.

So, David, you are going to start this off but first, I want you to listen to President Biden pushing back on the idea that Republicans want to portray him or his party as anti-police. Here it is.


LEMON: How do you respond to Republicans who try to paint you and your party as anti-police?

BIDEN: They're lying.

(APPLAUSE) BIDEN: No, look. Never once. We have to change police conduct. We have to have rules where things are open.


BIDEN: We have to have rules where you can be able to determine what the background, how many times a cop has violated the rules. And be able to have access to what's going on in police departments so the Justice Department can get involved in whether or not they have to change the pattern and practices. I've always said that.

LEMON: What about defunding the police, though? Because there's --


BIDEN: No, I've never, never said defunding the police. Look. I don't know any community, particularly the communities that are in the most need and the poorest and the most at risk that don't want police. They want police though, to look at them as equals. They aren't saying Joe Biden is anti-police. Cops are not saying that about Joe Biden. They know me. Period.


LEMON: So, he says Republicans are lying if they are calling him anti- police. But what about some Democrats and the progressive wing of the party?


AXELROD: Well, look. I think Biden was -- first of all, he was -- he was right that, you know, when the defund-police issue arose last year during the campaign, he was very explicit that he did not support that. He's trying now -- these are echoes of what we heard in New York City in the mayor's race recently, Eric Adams who won, a former-police captain. Also, a police reformer said we need safety and justice. And we need both. We can't choose one or the other.

I think that's the road that Biden wants to drive down. He wants to be tough on police misconduct and abuse of for -- power. And -- but he also wants to protect neighborhoods and, you know, this -- Republicans believe, Don, that this is a big issue for them in 2022. They think it worked for them in lower-ballot races underneath the presidential race in 2020.

And we've seen crime rise in most of the major metropolitan areas in this country. They think this is a winner for them and particularly in suburban areas. And Biden is sensitive to that. And I think that he wanted to walk that line and make clear that he is not choosing safety over justice or justice over safety.

LEMON: Yes. Shootings and homicides are up. Crime is actually down. But -- but you're right, shootings -- and listen. That's the most important part.

AXELROD: I should be (Inaudible). LEMON: Yes. But you -- that's the -- you said the most important part. You can't replace a life, right? You can -- you know, if someone breaks into your house or breaks a window, you can fix that.

Matthew, listen. To David's point, there was a brazen shooting tonight in D.C. earlier this evening witnessed by our very own Jim Acosta. I mean, this crime issue is big and it seems the White House is well aware of it.

DOWD: Well, yes, and I think the other thing here is we have another gun shooting and we're doing nothing about guns which is another example of why we're in the situation we're in in Washington when a majority of the country wants something done on guns. And they've wanted it done on guns for 15 years, and we still do nothing on guns as we have shooting after shooting after shooting.

I think it's important for people to know the facts, and I think it's also important that most Americans can balance two things in -- in their hand at the same time. Don't defund the police as most Americans say. Don't defund the police but the police reform, the police departments and police-legal force -- forces -- need serious reform and structural changes because they're not necessarily doing the -- all the good things they need to do all of the time. Both of those things can happen at the same time.

I disagree about how effective this issue is for the Republicans in this. They tested it out in a New Mexico special election not too many weeks ago and they lost badly in New Mexico running this as a test case in this. But I think it's incumbent upon us and I think one of the most powerful things the president said is when he said they're lying.

And to me, your lead-in to the show in the first part of the show was all about the pandemic and the Delta variant and what we're facing with that virus. As bad as that virus is, the bad -- the worse virus for our democracy and our country is the virus of lying and the virus of going away from what the truth is.

There is not many Republicans today that have any integrity in their DNA. And I would ask your viewers put aside all partisanship. Put aside everything about -- to the side. Vote for people with integrity because that, if you want to know the greatest threat to our democracy and our country, it's the fact that we no longer have a common set of facts. And Americans don't know who to believe from their politicians. And that is pushed by Donald Trump.

But the Delta variant of untruth is the GOP as a whole. They're the new Delta variant even with Donald Trump off the shelf and down at Mar-a-Lago. That to me, is the biggest concern of our democracy is the fact that we no longer have a common truth to bind us together.

LEMON: That was a word right there. Matthew, thank you very much. David, thank you. I appreciate it.

So, it's kind of what Matthew was just talking about. They won't get the vaccine, right? And now they're at risk, cases surging in parts of this country where fewer people got vaccinated. And my next guest says doctors are telling him it's like a war zone.



LEMON: States lagging in vaccinations are seeing a spike in new COVID cases, cases of the Delta variant surging all across the country even while the pace of new vaccinations keeps slowing.

Ed Yong is a Pulitzer Prize winning staff writer at The Atlantic and he joins me now. Ed, good to see you again. I appreciate it.

Let's talk about, the CDC says 97 percent of COVID hospitalizations are from unvaccinated people. You have been reporting on hospitals in rural areas where cases are surging. Doctors and nurses are telling you that it's like a war zone. Am I correct?

ED YONG, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Yes, that's right. I talked to a lot of healthcare workers who work in southwest Missouri, one of the epicenters of the current surge. And things are bad out there. Once again, they are overwhelmed. They're struggling to find places to put their patients. They're struggling to find enough staff to care for their patients. They are exhausted, and it's worse than last year.

Not just in terms of the number of people in the hospital, but the fatigue, the emotional crushing burden of having to once again deal with a surge at a time when vaccines are readily available. And at a time when so much of the country seems to have moved on from the pandemic and thinks that it's over.

One hospital chief said to me that New York recently threw a ticker tape parade for its healthcare heroes. They're knee deep in COVID right now.

LEMON: Yes, you're right. It just happened. I think like two weeks ago. Right on about that.


Today, CDC director Walensky saying that mask wearing for vaccinated folks is still a personal choice. I mean, that could change. Place -- places like L.A. going back to mask mandates and people are really confused. What impact does this mask sort of whiplash having, Ed?

YONG: You know, I think it was always a mistake to think of these behaviors as being a matter of individual choice. No one's health is fully in their hands in a pandemic. These are infectious diseases by their nature they spread.

So, my health is very much in your hands, too. And all of our choices are very much influenced by the society around us, whether people even have the option of keeping themselves safe to -- and at the expense of their own livelihoods.

We should know better. People in public health should know better than to make this about a question of personal responsibility. I do think that at a time when the Delta variant is spreading so much and when it is hitting unvaccinated communities so much. There is a strong case to be made for people to be wearing masks indoors again.

I am fully vaccinated, but I certainly haven't stopped wearing masks indoors. And I certainly am not going to be stopping now given what we're seeing with the spread of this variant.

LEMON: You know this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. But the problem is that every child under 12 in this country is unvaccinated, Ed. I mean, talk about the impact of that on parents and children because people are very concerned.

YONG: Yes. You know, as you say the unvaccinated. You know, people often think of them as this big homogenous group who are like antagonistic towards vaccines. It's not true at all. That group includes all of our kids. You know, people, everyone under 12. But it also includes immunocompromised people. It includes, you, know people who simply don't have access to vaccines.

Vaccines are -- loads of people are eligible for vaccines but a lot of folks from poorer or are underinsured or marginalized communities simply don't have the time or the ability to go and get their shots. Or to, you know, have the leave necessary to recover from side effects.

We really need to stop thinking about the unvaccinated as just this big monolith because all of these different groups require different approaches to get them to get their shots. And you know, time is running out and condescension and lack of empathy isn't going to make the process go any faster.

LEMON: And listen, you are talking about something we can just put this up before we let Ed go here. He has this new article out in The Atlantic and it's called "America is getting unvaccinated people all wrong." Thank you very much, sir. I appreciate it.

YONG: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

LEMON: Yes. The NFL is warning their teams that they'll force a forfeit if there are COVID outbreaks. A whole bunch of players are angry. More next.



LEMON: All right. Get a load of this. The NFL implementing a big new penalty for teams that have coronavirus outbreaks among unvaccinated players. A league-wide memo obtained by CNN outlining a new rule that says if an outbreak among unvaccinated players forces a game to be postponed and it can't be rescheduled that the team will have to forfeit a game and neither team's players would get paid, reaction from players really immediate. Look some of them up on your screen now.

I want to bring in now Benjamin Watson, the vice president of the NFL Players Association and a former NFL player. Benjamin, thank you for joining us and helping us talk through this.


LEMON: The NFL P.A. which means the NFL Players association, put out its own memo saying that the same basic rules applied last year and the only difference this year is additional penalties on clubs responsible for an outbreak and the availability of vaccines. But you're seeing a strong reaction from several players. What's behind this resistance?

WATSON: Well, this is just the latest tone-deaf move by the NFL. Look, the fact of the matter is that 75 percent of players right now are vaccinated and we think those numbers will start to trend upwards as camps starts to open in the next several weeks.

And so, what the NFL is really dong, Don, is exerting control. And son you see the reaction from players and that reaction simply comes from the fact that players should have the decision of when and how to get vaccinated. And again, most are doing that. But last year, the NFL and the NFLPA came together because we both have a vested interest in games being played. And we played an entire season, all 16 games were played but the same rule did apply last year, if there was a cancellation, neither team would get paychecks.

LEMON: OK. So, listen, according to the NFL reporting, the NFL is reporting that 78 percent of players have gotten at least one shot. You're saying 75 vaccinated. One shot is not fully vaccinated. Son is it -- do you know if it's 75 percent of players fully vaccinated?

WATSON: I don't know exactly if they're fully vaccinated. But I do know by a fact that 75 to 78 percent of them have started that process. But the point is that as camps open and again, camps are opening already quarterbacks are already reporting in the next couple of weeks. Everybody will be there, that players are starting to do this.

What the NFL is doing as always, and you know this, is not only exercising control over players but also sending a message to TV contracts, to big media, to sponsors, that we're going to have this season because there was a lot of uncertainty last year, and as this money starts to come in they want to be assured that those revenues --



LEMON: OK. Two things. Because look, I know people want to make their money, I get it. We all do. We all need to feed our families. But it's not -- it's also about saving people's lives and keeping them healthy. Why don't -- why don't some of those players -- you said one in four. Why don't they want to get vaccinated?

WATSON: Well, you've heard some of them. If you just read a bunch -- a lot of the tweets that you heard from players. And I think that when it comes to vaccinations and when it comes to putting something in your body that's a foreign substance, everybody should have their own agency. They should be able to operate under what they think is the best after doing the research.

Look, if you look back last year none of the players were vaccinated and they played an entire year. Over the course of the last several months many players have --


LEMON: But the vaccine -- but Benjamin, that doesn't -- that doesn't -- the vaccine was not --

WATSON: And so --

LEMON: -- the vaccine was not as available then, Benjamin. So that doesn't really apply. But the thing is, here is what I don't understand. In order for me to walk into this building every day I have to be vaccinated. And if I'm not vaccinated, I don't work at CNN.

And if players aren't vaccinated, perhaps they should not be part of the NFL. If you don't -- because this is not just about yourself. This is about the health of other people. You're putting other people's lives at risk. It's not just about you.

So, there are different rules when you're in the middle of a deadly virus and a pandemic. And most businesses across the country, many of them, if you don't get vaccinated, you cannot come to work.


LEMON: So then, why should the NFL be different?

WATSON: Well, you would have to ask Commissioner Goodell that and the owners, Don. But the fact of the matter is that the NFL has come together with the P.A. and said we're not going to mandate vaccinations. And so, whether you agree with that or not that's just where we stand.

What they are however saying is that, we believe in the vaccine, we believe in the science of the vaccine, we want to encourage coaches, players to get vaccinated but we're not going to mandate it.

LEMON: No, I understand. But then you can't be mad if they say you have to forfeit a game because you're unvaccinated. That should be -- I mean, that seems like a compromise. They're not making you get vaccinated but if you have to forfeit a game because you were derelict in not protecting yourself and the lives of other people, that seems like a fair compromise to me.

WATSON: And that is exactly the compromise that the P.A. and the NFL came together to create.


WATSON: We've been operating under these rules while they've been -- I haven't been playing but they've been operating under these rules for an entire year and played a whole season. And so, those things will go on, it's the same rule, there's just more penalties right now. LEMON: Yes, but you could play. I think that you could play. So maybe

you might have to step in.

WATSON: Don. Don. Forty years old, man, my wife doesn't let me go out the door.

LEMON: See, well, maybe we should have more NFL players' wives tell them that they need to get vaccinated and we wouldn't have this problem. Thank you, Benjamin. I'm just joking. Thank you very much. I appreciate you joining us. We're going to continue to talk about this. This is not going away anytime soon. We appreciate you joining us.

President Biden taking to the stage as I moderated our CNN town hall answering voter's questions. And tonight, the voters respond. That's next.